Many leaders lament about the time, money, and energy poured into the hiring process – only for new employees to leave soon after arrival – or worse, stay on as disengaged employees. More than 25% of new hires quit within the first 90 days, according to recruiting software provider Jobvite. The key reasons? 43% say the job didn’t pan out as they expected, 34% reported a bad experience or incident, and 32% were disappointed with the company culture.

In today’s tight labor market, employers clearly need to pay better attention to the onboarding process. To see the results we crave when bringing in new team members, we have to create a meaningful onboarding experience. Companies are social ecosystems and must be thought of as such. New hires may be consciously excited, even thrilled at the new opportunity, but just below the cognitive surface lies a cauldron of hypervigilant threat detection to ensure psychological safety, belonging, and connection.

As discussed in a previous blog post, employees need a safe and secure environment to do their best work. Once the limbic system triggers “threat,” it starts redirecting metabolic resources, the energy consumed in the brain, to responding to and coping with the perceived danger. This robs employees of everything from IQ to attunement with co-workers. Alternatively, when the limbic system feels secure, we have more mental amplitude.

The primary goal of the suggestions below is to make the first few months of an employee’s experience feel safe and reaffirm their decision to accept the position – keeping them on board and engaged for the long-term.

The Key Components of a Successful Onboarding Program

Equip employees with the resources they need to perform well.

During the onboarding process, make it clear what resources are available to employees and provide thorough training on how to use them. Think beyond tools and software when considering valuable resources to offer and include people as well. There is evidence that one of the most important resources you can provide is a mentor – a ready source of insight to support job performance and the overall employee experience. Bear in mind that mentorships should never be a manager-employee relationship, but rather someone from another team or department altogether for an unbiased perspective. 

Have a conversation about organizational policies.

Every company and department has compliance expectations. Rather than tossing new hires a manual to look over on their own time, sit down and review them together. This way, you can highlight essential policies, increase clarity, and reduce the likelihood of mistakes early on. Don’t feel like you have to cover everything in one sitting – in fact, having multiple checkpoints in the onboarding process helps cement valuable information new hires are trying to absorb. 

Regularly check in to maintain clear expectations

This is key. As cited above, close to half of employees who quit early on say it’s because expectations fell short. Check in often about what your new hire is experiencing and if it’s what they anticipated. Whenever you catch gaps, talk them through and see if anything can be done about them (even if it’s just a mentality shift for your employee). Seek clarity around performance outcomes (how success is measured), desired behaviors, values, communication (frequency, style), and any other factors impacting the employee experience. 

Help the employee get to know other team members.

Being a manager goes beyond equipping employees to simply get their work done. Your role also includes fostering healthy team dynamics that offer support, camaraderie, and the ability to loadshare. Strive to create a diverse network for new employees to draw on, including subject matter experts, long-time hires who know the organization best, and other recent hires who know what it’s like to be in their shoes. 

As bringing new hires on board can sometimes recalibrate a team’s dynamic, be sure you provide ample opportunity for all employees to spend time together and learn about each other’s strengths through the orientation process, team building activities, and training opportunities. 

Below is a typical timeline with recommended practices that provide a positive onboarding experience for a new employee:

Day One

Provide a warm welcome by taking new hires on a tour of their new office space, pausing to introduce them to other employees as you go. Afterward, review their job description and responsibilities again to keep expectations aligned. If possible, plan ahead to have a meaningful first project in place that your employee can use to start getting familiar with the work, resources, and the roles of other employees.

Weeks 1-3

Use this time to encourage your employee to connect with other team members, complete training, review company policies, and check in again on job responsibilities. Recommend relevant materials that they can sift through on their own (webinars, handbooks), and then set up a time to get together to review the content, so you can be sure they are starting out on the right foot.

Provide feedback early and often to affirm what this new employee is doing well and where they can be redirected to stay on track. The following phrases demonstrate how you can create a positive experience while offering your support:

We’re so glad you’ve joined the team. Is there anything I can do to help you settle in here? Is there anyone you haven’t met yet that you’d like to?

You’re a quick study; I’m impressed with how quickly you are learning the requirements of the job. Do you have any questions so far?

It’s great to see you contributing to the team already. How are you feeling about your role? Is it what you expected? Has anything surprised you?

After One Month

Discuss with your employee the extent to which the job meets their expectations and identify any gaps that they feel exist between their expectations and the role. Determine if there is further training that would help close any gaps. At this point, you can also shift the conversation to include longer-term goals and start developing plans that move them in that direction. 

After Six Months

Review any work that has been completed and offer feedback on their performance. Then, turn the tables and ask for their feedback on how things are going. Some of the best ways to improve an organization’s operations come from the fresh perspective only a new employee can bring. Don’t limit the focus of your conversation to the work getting done – use this time to check in on how it feels to come to work each day. Is there anything you can do to help them feel a greater sense of belonging? Contribute more? Play to their strengths more? 

Establishing an informative and welcoming onboarding process allows new hires to get settled into their new roles quickly and have a positive experience that keeps them engaged for the long-term. 

Key Takeaways:

  • A strong onboarding process allows a new employee to build a foundation for success in your organization.
  • View onboarding as a process, not a one-time event. Check-in early and often on how things are going.
  • Set milestone dates (day one, month one, etc.) to assess whether new employees are acclimating well to the job and ensure they are equipped to do their best work.

Referenced resource: This is why new hires leave within the first 90 days, Stephanie Vozza, Fast Company.

Would you like more tips for creating an onboarding process that establishes that emotional velcro that makes employees want to come to work every day? Listen to our most recent episode of Thrive By Design: The Podcast.